(* indicates names for wild strawberries)
Fraise (French), Erdbeere (German), fragola (Italian), morango (Portuguese), fresa/freson (Spanish), arraga/marrubi (Basque), jordbær (Danish/Norwegian), smultron (Swedish), mansikka/*abomansikka (Finnish), klubnika/*zemlyanika (Russian), truskawka/*poziomka (Polish), jagoda/*sumska jagoda (Serbo-Croat), fraga (Romanian), yagoda (Bulgarian), fráoula (Greek), cilek (Turkish), tut sadeh (Hebrew), farawla (Arabic), arbéi (Indonesian), cao mei (Chinese), ichigo (Japanese)
The Latin name fraga refers to the fruit’s fragrance. The English word came as a result of the plant’s eratic habit of “straying”, although many of its relatives also have this annoying habit.
Strawberries are technically false or accessory fruit. This means that the seeds, which are on the outside of the fruit, are the true fruits.
The fleshy part attached to the seeds is the receptacle which corresponds to the white core that remains on the stem when a raspberry is picked.
Strawberries come in different sizes, colours, and shapes, ranging from conical to globular to oval or heart-shaped, with new varieties constantly being developed.
Nutritionally, the strawberry is rich in B vitamins and vitamin C. It also contains considerable amounts of potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.
By the 14th century, the French had become strawberry enthusiasts, but it was another hundred years before they were served in England to Cardinal Wolsey at a banquet in 1509.
Strawberry cultivation did begin in the 14th century, using wild European species; but progress was slow until the discovery of the American berry (F. virginiana). When it was introduced to Europe, cultivation began to increase rapidly, especially with when another species (F. chiloensis) was included. Eventually, the two American species began to hybridize naturally, resulting in the modern cultivated strawberry (F. x ananassa).
A major role in the development of cultivated strawberries was accomplished by a French botanist, Antoine Nicolas Duchesne, who published his Histoire Naturelle des Fraisiers in 1766, when he was only nineteen years old.
Another influence was that of a market gardener, Michael Keens, who established Keeds’ Seedlings, whose remarkable size and flavour caused a sensation when it came into cultivation in 1821. Most modern varieties are derived from it; and, as a result, hundreds of varieties are now exhibiting their great diversity in size and flavour.
The wild strawberry (tall strawberry, blue-leaf strawberry)
The wild counterpart is far removed from the cultivated types grown today, which date back only to the 17th century.
Wild strawberries are indigenous to both the Old and New Worlds and are among the most delicious of all berries.
The cultivated ones, although alluringly larger, do not have the same bold flavour.
A note of caution: many commercial growers try to produce exceptionally large berries by using chemical fertilizers, which sacrifice flavour in order to gain size. Purchasing organically-grown berries may result in a smaller berry; but the flavour is well worthwhile, plus having the added advantage of being free of toxic chemicals.
The smallest wild strawberries are the Hautbois varieties, whose tiny red fruits have a strong flavour.
Alpine strawberries are generally a little larger and less juicy, with a highly perfumed flavour. Yellow and white varieties look less appealing, but have a delicious flvour of vanilla.
The Strawberry tree, or arbutus (Arbutus unedo)
The strawberry tree produces bright red fruits that look like strawberries, but have a different taste that is better suited to jam-making. The sweet, spiky berries have a soft, mushy texture and a faint vanilla flavour.
The shrub can be found growing in Europe and as far north as western Ireland, where they are known as Killarney strawberries. They can also be found growing in the US and China.
Some notable strawberry species include the following:
F. vesca semperflorens, the alpine strawberry of Northern Europe, was popular in both the red and white forms.
F. moschata, the hautbois strawberry, and F. viridis, the green strawberry, were small, round fruits that were pale and streaked with green and had a peculiar musky flavour.
F. virginiana was a wild scarlet strawberry native to America and introduced to Europe in the 17th century.
F. chiloensis, a pine strawberry, larger and juicier, grew on the west coasts of North and South America, but was mainly associated with Chile. The name “pine” refers to its pineapple flavour, and can be red, yellow, or white. It was taken to France early in 1712 by a French officer who found the plants growing at the foot of the Andes. They were used to hybridize naturally with F. virginiana resulting in a sensational berry, F. ananassa, the ancestor of the modern cultivated strawberry.